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    Round ups

    Christmas gift guide

    I know, this is way later than I intended but if you’re running low on Christmas cheer and need some inspiration for Christmas gifts for your foodie friends and loved ones, here are five to get you started…

    This Cookbook Belongs To Us

    Hear me out, recipe books might seem like a naff idea for the foodie in your life but this one is actually good. Not only is it packed with recipes which actual normal humans could feasibly make on a regular basis, it also has fancier ones too. Better yet, the recipes feature personal stories about what the recipes mean to people, and the money raised goes to support refugees in transit. So really you’re buying double the gift, a present for your lovely one and goodwill to men (women and non-binary folk).

    Costs £12.50 from Bearwood and Kings Heath Action for Refugees website

    Independent Birmingham card

    Yeah, I know I recommend this every year, but every year it continues to add good value. I’m pretty sure I’ve recouped the cost of one on trips to The Electric alone, which I then spend on tea and cake to eat before the film. The IB card gets you some great deals at a number of independent venues in the city and you will easily make your money back within the year, even if your memory is as crap as mine. It’s also a handy little reminder about some of the more off the beaten track venues that exist around the city.

    Buy from the Independent Birmingham website

    Cheese and wine from Grace + James

    This is a great gift because the chances are they’ll invite you round to enjoy the cheese and wine you’ve just gifted them, and so it pays to get something good. Kings Heath’s Grace + James have pulled together a number of cheese and wine offerings from a top notch hamper through to an array of wines for the big day itself. Their Christmas Day wine case will see you through your Christmas Meal, with two bottles of red, two bottles of white, a bottle of fizz and a bottle of dessert wine for afters.

    Prices range depending on items ordered, which can be done in store or via email.

    Byng Inc’s Daily Special 2019 calendar gift set

    Local artist Louise Byng has created a calendar which takes views on a culinary voyage to discover the weird and wonderful experience of cuisine and culture. With everything from historic honey through to a special edition Burger King Whopper, this A4 calendar will not only provide you with some interesting fact, but 25% of all profits are donated to Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity.

    Order from Byng Inc:

    Gift Cards

    What do you get the person who has everything? Easy, get them an experience they’ll enjoy and, even better, you won’t have to wrap anything – better yet, they might take you along to share the joy.

    Musings, Round ups

    International Women’s Day 2017


    I know, on the face of it, International Women’s Day might not have a lot to do with the food and drink scene in a city in England.  However, for anyone who has been paying attention you will have noticed that it’s a bit of a sausage fest, and most of the well known names are distinctly male.  So I figured today was a good day to celebrate some badass women doing cool stuff in Birmingham – apologies to all those who I missed off the list, I ran out of time!

    Amy Seton and Victoria Osgood, Whisky Birmingham festival and Birmingham Whisky Club

    Whisky has this reputation for being a bit of an old man’s drink so if you’re young and female then you expect a bit of confusion when you turn up to whisky events.  But imagine being a woman and the organisers of the best whisky festival in the city and a whole raft of great whisky events too?  Yeah, that is not going to be the easiest thing ever, but Amy and Vicky know their stuff and put on some great events highlighting some great whiskies from around the world with some top-notch speakers.

     Holly Jackson, Carters of Moseley

    I’ve been lucky enough to visit Carter’s a few times over the years and whilst there is no doubt about how fantastic the food is, that Michelin star was well deserved; but it was the relaxed, friendly but entirely on point service that drew me back in.  And for that, Maitre d’ and proprietor Holly must be congratulated.  Thank you for creating a place that feels like a real treat, but somewhere you can relax and not feel like you’re being observed like a specimen in a lab.

    Imogen Hudson, Jen Smith, Holly Smith and Jen Nadin (Cherry Reds). Picture, used with permission, by Jas Sansi

    Jen Nadin, Cherry Reds

    I bloody love Cherry Reds. This will come as no surprise to anyone who interacts with me on social media; it’s often my most recommended place because it covers nearly all dietary requirements without making a song and dance about it, has a great beer selection and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.  And no one minds when you order tea and cake on a Friday night.  Jen is the brains behind Cherry Reds and for that I salute her.

    Marverine Cole aka Beer Beauty

    Marverine is Birmingham’s first Beer Sommelier, as accredited by the UK Beer Academy, in another industry typically associated with men.  As well as winning award for her beer videos, she has appeared on a bunch of TV shows promoting Britain’s national drink.

    Martha and Molly, Loaf

    I think all the staff at Loaf are great but special mention to Martha and Molly who put up with me every Saturday morning after I’ve rolled out of bed and headed to Loaf, pre-coffee and still half asleep.  As well as starting my day with one of their delicious croissants, a quick chat with them is a great start to the day.

    Rosie Ginday, Miss Macaroon, promotional photo

    Rosie Ginday, Miss Macaron

    Rosie trained as a high-end pastry chef at University College Birmingham and worked at the Michelin-starred Purnell’s restaurant before founding Miss Macaroon.  As well as making these sweet treats, they provide employment and training programmes aimed at young people who have left care, slipped through the education system or find themselves homeless.

    Kaye Winwood

    If you’ve been to any slightly out there events in Birmingham that fuse food and art together, chances are that Kaye has been behind them.  From her work with Companis through to last year’s Diabolical Roses and the upcoming Expanded Intimacy, Kaye has been producing immersive dining experiences, which are a highlight in Birmingham’s calendar.

    Opus Restaurant Irene Allen, photo used with permission

    Irene Allen, Opus

    Director of Opus on Cornwall St and Bar Opus in Two Snowhill, Irene and her team have been doing some stellar work supporting young people in the hospitality trade with their links with University College Birmingham and their commitment to sustainability.  And their prix fixe menu is a really good deal.

    Pip, Pip’s Hot Sauce

    I recently marinated some chicken in Pip’s BBQ sauce and it was bloody delicious, which is hardly surprising as Pip’s sauce has a cult following in the city.  Often found manning her own stall at various markets in the city, Pip’s Hot Sauce is made in small batches and can even be made up as wedding favours, which sounds like a superb idea.

    Katie Rouse of Crushed & Cubed

    Katie has spent a good deal of time making sure that Birmingham’s independent scene has some decent drinks.  As a bartender she has been seen slinging cocktails behind bars at The Victoria, Jekyll & Hyde and The Botanist. But taking the step up, she’s currently managing director of Crushed & Cubed, making sure that there are some interesting bottles on the city’s independent back bars so we punters have something good to drink.

    Happy International Women’s Day ladies (and gents) – lets raise a glass to those women making Birmingham great!


    Pig butchery and charcuterie at Loaf

    steve_rossiters_pig_butcher_cuttingOne of my most vivid memories of growing up is being about seven and sitting on the counter supervising my dad as he skinned a rabbit.  Weird right?  Now that I’m old (but certainly not grown up) I totally get that most people’s exposure to raw meat is whatever the butcher or supermarket has to offer, but my dad grew up on a farm in Ireland and had a typical no-nonsense attitude, even when they let us name the animals.

    So when I barrelled up to the fine Stirchley establishment of Loaf to check out their pork butchery and charcuterie course, I was eager to get stuck in, or, you know, supervise.  The course is run in the cookery school (next door to the shop) by charcuterie enthusiast Lap-fai Lee and starts with a butchery demonstration from Steve Rossiter, of the award-winning Rossiter’s organic butchers, which is just up the road from Loaf.


    Now I totally get that butchery makes some people squeamish, which is what took me so long to write about this.  But watching and listening to Steve explain how the half a pig is broken down is like listening to someone describe art; he talked about the animal having lines to follow about where to cut, and it’s so clear how much he respects his job and the animal he’s butchering.  It’s the sort of thing that you could totally see being a Netflix mini-series.

    And once the pig was broken down, Steve and Lap teamed up to show us how to make sausages.  After threading on the casing, it was a matter of applying the right amount of pressure and feeding through the meat, and then linking them up.  Sounds easy right?  It’s like that patting your head and rubbing your tummy only holding a slippery eel in one hand and trying to crack a safe with the other.  I think we all got there in the end, and linking sausages was definitely a bit of a group effort as it took most of us a bit of time to get the hang of it.  But if anything, it meant that a group of strangers quickly became pretty friendly…because you try talking about sausages and no one cracking a smutty joke.

    lap_cuttingAfter the sausages were made and linked, it was time to break down the meat further into usable cuts that you’d find in the supermarket.  This began with Lap showing us how to cut down some of the larger sections and then let us have a go…which meant hammering cleavers to get through bones, and slicing into a pig’s head.  I like to hope my enthusiasm for this is more TV hospital drama fan and less psychopath, but…*shrugs*.  Probably not a good time to mention we also learn some rope tying methods either, right?

    Lunch is provided and is, of course, suitably pig related.  A spaghetti carbonara cooked in front of us by Lap, with cured meats from previous courses, and of course bread from Loaf.  It’s a great chance to sit down, pick Lap’s brain about his extensive knowledge of food, curing meats, food photography and the rest (which feels a bit like talking to someone about their Mastermind specialist subject).  By this point the group has spent the morning working together to make sausages, butcher pig’s heads and it’s clear we’re all a bit keen on food, so it’s nice to just sit around and chat.


    The afternoon session of charcuterie was all about learning to cure, which is one of those things I know of but never really thought about.  And turns out it’s actually pretty simple, but also quite technical in so far as making sure you have the right type of chemicals.  And once you’ve measured the chemicals, mixed and made the sausages you have to prick them to let the air in…and queue more smutty comments.

    And with the chorizo and salami put out to dry, it was time to divvy up all the pork products produced from the day.  We were told to bring some plastic tubs with us, and I know I should’ve realised that half a pig would produce quite a lot of meat, but I wasn’t expecting to go home with quite so much.  I have a tiny freezer and by the time I took my loot home it was pretty much full of pork, except because I bagged the pork cheeks they went into a stew pretty sharpish and were amazing.

    making_sausages_groupThis is the second course I’ve done at Loaf and each time I go away inspired; they have this great way of instilling confidence and sending you off with a sack full of food, and a brain full of ideas.  Watching Steve cut down the pig was compelling, Lap is like an encyclopedia of knowledge and the course gives you to give things a go.  Realistically, given that I live in a small flat, curing my own meat might not be something I do very often, but it didn’t feel entirely beyond me.  And what it did do was inspire me to think more extensively about pork and not just buying the same things, but trying things a bit different – and not just when ordering at a restaurant.

    On the surface the courses at Loaf seem a bit pricy, but given the level of expertise of the teachers and the sheer volume of food you go home with, along with the food on the day and the arms full of knowledge, it’s well worth it.

    Disclosure: I was invited to the class, but I suspect that given I’m there so regularly they just assume I’ve moved in.